I realized that my email this morning may have been misinterpreted because I wrote it so hastily. I think that the plant work, and Zoe and Katie's work in particular is part of the most profound evolution of the TML's research direction since I started the atelier lab 10 years ago. As I said to people in a seemingly different line of work -- the lighting group (Morgan Sutherland, Harry Smoak, Navid Navab ... - it is crucial that we do things step by step, that in fact that we start with the humblest, the most modest, and the most mundane applications of our unusual technical and technological prowess. The mundane, the everyday is in fact the very heart of what I am hoping will be the application of the Topological Media Lab's most sophisticated experimental art and philosophy. As with the use of our Ozone media system to inflect the household halogen lamps, so with the hosting of "ordinary" plants in the lab...
This work must be more than a few brave words or occasions, it must be the tending of living things week after week by enough of us. It should be us, not some work-for-hire gardener paid to tend some ornamental plants. I am vitally interested in experimenting with the sociotechnical ensembles of the TML to find out, because I think our programmers' and media art students' very inattention is itself a microcosmic symptom of the catastrophe that is Technological Progress. I'm happy to be part of this as much as I can to help launch this and recruit people -- current and future TML people -- with you and Katie.
I started this conversation with Flower Lunn <email@example.com
> 3 years ago, a wonderfully thoughtful, gentle and determined artist who studied with me as a wise "undergrad" and did her MFA in Fibres. And later with Josee-Anne Drolet <firstname.lastname@example.org
>, Elena Frantova <email@example.com
> and Timothy Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org
>. It is a risky path because it can make the lab look unflashy, even naive. It may even bring the lab down in institutional power, which could mean its closure. But this is the heart of the ethico-asthetic experiment that is the lab itself as a socio-technical organism.
I think that media artists who are in a hurry to make machines sit up and make 3D this or that in OpenGL have a lot to learn from working with earth and vegetal life. The challenge is how to blend the attention, then the habits of everyday work, across the artists and philosophers hosted here: those who code Max/MSP/Jitter, those who solder, those who handle paper or fibres, those who work earth, and those who work words,... Laura Boyd-Clowes
> is a word and earth worker, who I value as much as the Ozone creators. She would be the natural student leader of the philosophical thread intertwined with the living sculpture work. But she may be too busy to do much this year. Nonetheless I would invite Laura to come continue the discussions from Spinoza
, through Bateson
in concert with the gardeners and programmers among us.
I'm sorry that now I am (we are all) stretched thin. But in the end that should not matter because the initiative, the power, authentically can only come from you and friends. I do hope to be more present in this aspect together with the domestic phenomenological experiments after Dec 3. I very much appreciate Zoe's careful attention and Zoe and Katie's principled thought behind the work, which will twin together with Jane Tingley and Michal Seta's exquisite work. I find delightful, for example, the taut lines Zoe pinned neatly across the tops of the earthen bins to train our seedlings, some of whom have sprouted from the sixth generation of morning glories that Josee-Anne tended with so much care and hope, seeded from Flower Lunn circa Remedios Terrarium.
This is part of the story that I tell about the TML when I talk about the future. We will want to share this also with for example, Lina Dib <email@example.com
>, the anthropologist with whom I am composing an invitation to the TML during the Anthropological Association of America conference Nov 16 - 20 here in Montreal.
The problem we face as an atelier is that those who are students are fragmented into the classes and the hundreds of distractions that students must entertain. And those who work or have families to tend have insufficient the energy or time perhaps to tend yet another space full of lives. But caring for plants is a mark of integrity and depth in an institutional and social field still hurting with postmodernity's flatness and frictionlessness. I would like to learn how we may collectively conduct philosophically informed creative research over the long term in a way that accommodates students as well as working people, not just those few who happen to be lucky or political enough to be funded by some grant to do just this at the TML. This may be impossible, but as Badiou may have argued 2000 years after Zhuangzi and Laozi, paradox can be generative. The plant project is part of this sociotechnical / institutional experiment, and its very mundaneness is our risk, our tactic, and our method.
So, thank you, and let's proceed.
One who knows does not speak;
One who speaks does not know.
Block the openings;
Shut the doors.
Blunt the sharpness;
Untangle the knots;
Soften the glare;
On Oct 19, 2011, at 2:08 AM, Sha Xin Wei wrote:
Dear Vincent, Adrian,
Thanks a lot for the intros!
The best would be to talk directly with the PLSS vegetal research group. This year led by Zoe Yuristy. Last year's Spinoza - Bateson - Guattari reading group was led by Laura Boyd-Clowes. Now we are doing very very mundane beginning -- just to plant seedlings in fresh dirt, then get humidity sensors to semi-automate the watering system. Our philosophy seminar is suspended, although that is the most promising in terms of ground-breaking research, we simply are too busy to push that forward for now. Maybe with your intervention, we can advance the philosophical investigation in a rigorous way!
Natasha Myers @ York University (Toronto) brings together her training as a botanist, and dance, as well as her wok in science & technology studies. There are fascinating works with plant chemical signals, chemical memory, plant movement + human movement, etc.. She should be part of the more research oriented conversation.
Let me suggest that Adrian make the translations :) I'll do that too after my deadlines ease up a bit Dec 2.
On Oct 16, 2011, at 4:28 PM, Julian Vincent wrote:
Well, hi y'all! Great introduction from Adrian!
Here's a one-pager which summarises the second subject Adrian mentions: <The selective advantage.doc>. If the idea has a fault, it's that the model is so strong that it explains too much! I'm collecting press cuttings, quotations, etc, which is the only way I know to accumulate information in this sort of area. My ideal would be to interview some practising artists, but I fancy I need a bit more credibility before I can persuade someone to give me the cash to travel. Ideally I would interview a couple of dozen of the current top artists (all categories) in the world - maybe more. If any of you know someone of sufficient standing and compliance who would agree to do it for free, I'd love to run them through the system! And your comments, too. At present I'm putting the data into an ontology which is my current way of filing and assembling data. You can have a copy if you are interested.
The first subject which Adrian mentions requires a bit more background since it's not published and needs some understanding of botany and engineering. The bending stiffness of a rod depends on the diameter of the rod (or, more generally, the shape and size of its cross section) and the material it's made of. A small-section rod made of stiff material will bend to the same amount as a large-section rod made of less stiff material. We were working on tobacco plants which had one of the three pathways producing lignin (= 'wood') downgraded. In the greenhouse (a wind-free environment) they were trained up pieces of string, and looked exactly the same as the controls which had full lignification. But the ones with reduced lignin were more floppy (lower bending stiffness). However, if a plant is stimulated mechanically it tens to stiffen up (thigmomorphogenesis) by changing its dimensions. We tried this with both normal and downgraded plants and found that they grew differently such that the stem of the more floppy one grew bigger in diameter than the control plant, resulting on both plants having the same bending stiffness. In other words, they both ended up with the same mechanical properties. I adduced this to mean that the plant had a 'concept' of how stiff it should be, correcting for and short-comings in the material it's made of,and therefore has a self-image, or is conscious! I have to admit that this interpretation of a well-known phenomenon was created in order to wrong-foot those who believe that only man is capable of consciousness and self-knowledge, but it also means that, perhaps, one should think a bit more clearly about what consciousness means and how to define it!
The basic data are published and is kosher, but the above argument is not published.
On 16 Oct 2011, at 05:06, Adrian Freed wrote:
I would like to introduce you all to Julien Vincent who I met at the the Fiber Society Conference last week.
Julien's work and his interesting peridisciplinary thinking intersects themes of the PLSS project and the TML in general.
Our conversations ventured far and wide but a couple of relevance are:
1) An ingenious interpretation of a specific plant biomechanics experimental as evidence of plant self identity. I heard about this post-Guiness so perhaps
Julian can refer us to a paper for the details. As you all know I am just an interest tourist when it comes to biology but I keep getting a lot of Julian's field. For example
I used the locomotion of wild wheat awns in a recent paper as an example of entrainment. I suspect there is much in the mechanical aspects of plants to stimulate
discussion of agency at the boundaries of the living/and non living.
2) The following idea of his:
"The selective advantage of art. Art (all varieties) is a safe method of allowing people to rehearse alternative futures. The engagement is to guess what will happen next, which relies on pattern recognition (well known) but demands projection of the pattern into the future (commonly not appreciated). The person who 'knows' what will happen next is the most likely to survive. Therefore art, apparently totally useless in terms of evolutionary advantage and so strangely persistent, appears to have a central role in our survival mechanisms."
As you can imagine this second point has received insensitive resistance from the usual places. Rather than add weight to the obvious critiques I would like us to engage in conversation with Julian
to deepen, broaden and sharpen this insight of his.
I referred Julian to Lucy Suchman's work on situated action.
Simondon is also relevant because he uses the language of evolution in considering the evolution of the technical object.
Heavy-hitting scientists who have considered evolution and social patterning include Varela,
and for music we have Attali's argument (in Noise) that society tests new technologies first in music and sound because
these modailities have fewer material constraints. Andrew Pickering has started to look at art but his early work on this was not met very sympathetically in the DART503 seminar last year.
I am sure some of you biologist/philosophers and artist/biologists have some more useful suggestions for Julian.
Please share them.
Julian knows the RepRap inventor Adrian Bowyer so it might be interesting to share your experience on how the TML plants entrained you to build them a RepRap.